Taliban: Plural

Earlier today, I came across the following headline:

Taliban denies release of 8 S Korean hostages

It didn’t sound right to me. It hit me all at once — isn’t Taliban supposed to be the plural form?

I wasn’t sure, so I looked it up in the AP Stylebook. (Say what you want about the AP — it’s the preferred style for journalism.)

Taliban: Extreme Islamic Movement that ruled Afghanistan until driven out by U.S.-led coalition after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Arabic for religious students, it takes a plural verb. The singular is Talib.

The sentence should read, Taliban deny release of S Korean hostages.

It’s funny, but I swore I saw a headline on CNN.com today that had used Taliban in the singular sense. I just checked it again, and there was nothing.

As of 2007, the Taliban are still a dangerous force in Afghanistan, but I am hopeful that the organization will not last.

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10 responses to “Taliban: Plural

  1. Those collective forms are tricky. I say, “the people are ready for a fundamental change,” but I’m not sure that it is considered to be correct. I seem to remember politicians saying in speeches, “the American people is …” Maybe it’s one of those British/American things. Spanish is clear on this: a singular subject, even if it is a collective noun, always takes a takes a singular verb: La gente es … I would have never even picked up on “the Taliban is …” Muy interesante.

  2. Didn’t we remove the Taliban from power? Or was that all a dream?

  3. So when everyone was talking about John Walker Lynn and calling his the “American Taliban,” they should have been calling him the “American Talib” all along?

    Talib Kweli would have been furious! :)

  4. dlipkin’s comment just about made me spit my sandwich onto the keyboard! (in a good way)

  5. No one from ANY country, especially public speakers, should ever say “the people is…”!!!!!!!!!!

    One that always trips me up is media.

    What about al Qaeda?

  6. Found this on dictionary.com on “people”

    —Usage note People is usually followed by a plural verb and referred to by a plural pronoun: People are always looking for a bargain. The people have made their choice. The possessive is formed regularly, with the apostrophe before the -s: people’s desire for a bargain; the people’s choice. When people means “the entire body of persons who constitute a community or other group by virtue of a common culture, history, etc.,” it is used as a singular, with the plural peoples: This people shares characteristics with certain inhabitants of central Asia. The aboriginal peoples of the Western Hemisphere speak many different languages. The formation of the possessive is regular; the singular is people’s and the plural is peoples’.
    At one time, some usage guides maintained that people could not be preceded by a number, as in Fewer than 30 people showed up. This use is now unquestionably standard in all contexts.
    Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.1)
    Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2006.

    “The American people is ready for a change” just sounds SO WRONG! Maybe it would work with a sentence like “The American people is a proud group” (?!)

  7. “Media” is tricky because it is an unusual plural. A final “-s” usually marks a word as plural in English, but media is the Latin plural of medium, so for me it’s understandable that we think of it as being singular. I think that’s what’s up with Taliban: the lack of a final “-s” throws us off.

  8. This is one of your better posts, Kate. I think these collective forms are very tricky, especially when the word is borrowed from another language. Who know that -an was the indicator of a plural in … Pashto, is it?

    However, references to the American Talib might cause more confusion than being strictly correct is worth. Again, the point of grammar, indeed the entire point of language, is clear communication.

    A very good post, however.

    @dlipkin: Very, very funny.

  9. You’re closer to understanding the purpose of the AP Style Guide. However, if you’re going to criticize the Xinhua News Agency, you should check out the Xinhua Style Guide. (Granted, that isn’t available to the public, because as much of it is about the proper way to refer to controversial issues (like Tibet or Taiwan) as it is about style and usage.

    If you’re interested in the Xinhua New Agency, there’s an excellent anonymous blog about being a foreigner working for its sister English-language China Daily in Beijing. He was only there for a year, so it’s worth starting at the beginning and reading it through to the end. He has a snapshot of the Xinhua style guide in this post.

  10. I’m thinking about posting on other irregular plurals, Mark — like media, criteria and data.

    Alexa, I’m not sure about al-Quaida (the AP says to go by al-Qaida, not al-Quaeda). I’ll check it when I get home.

    Ryan, they have been removed from power, but they’re still a dangerous force.

    dlipkin, LOL. The American Talib!

    I’ve been looking through CNN.com — it was funny, but in the first few articles, they didn’t use ANY verbs with Taliban! Strange. In earlier articles, they referred to Taliban as a plural noun.

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